At Verumalleus’ declaration of the presence of abominations, the bounty hunters sprang into action. Retrieving their weapons, without hesitation they encircle the carriage and prisoner, taking complimentary positions they cover the whole of the treeline in vision.
Nimbly vaulting to the roof of the carriage with his short-bow, Pan’s cunning gaze rapidly flickers in all directions. Opposite from the crusader Vahkragg stands at the height of the carriage, his monstrous pole-axe held with relaxed self-assurance. While Rubin recites arcane principles under his bread too rapidly to be understood, Telfor curses the terrain under his. The thick overgrowth obscured their line-of-sight and ended far too close to the road for comfort. Without turning away from his watch, he calls out to Verumalleus, “We’re in a bad spot here, what can you tell us about the enemy?”
“There are more than I can count. Still a great distance off coming from the road to the north,” she answers in a calm and even tone, eyes closed and glowing faintly, “The main host is perhaps an hour away, but a smaller force have moved ahead and are approaching rapidly from the west. We may be able to escape them on foot, but there are far too many to fight.”
“Vahkragg, cut the horses loose! Everyone else, grab only what you can carry. Move!”
The horses bolt along the road as Vahkragg cuts them free and slaps them on the rump. Divvying up the rations and equipment between the six of them takes only moments, but the shifting wind carries the putrid stench of death with it. In the distance the droning moan and rhythmic pounding of hundreds of feet can begin to be heard as they flee the road for the eastern woods. Everything in Telfor’s depth of training and experience told him that leaving the road was likely death, but he trusted Veru when she said that staying was a certainty.
As soon as they cross the treeline they are struck and pelted by the oppressively thick vegetation. Like diving into a solid wall of grasping claws their flesh is gripped and scratched with every step. Keeping together proves almost impossible as the foliage makes seeing past a handful of yards in any direction is nearly impossible. The pursuers keep doggedly on their heels, whenever the group think they have escaped the abominations find them again, driving them deeper and deeper into the wild.
At last the signs of pursuit fade and do not return. For the hours they had been moving, they had only broken to listen for signs of pursuit and they were exhausted. Vahkragg had fared the best, his tribe were endurance hunters. Likewise Telfor and Pan had some experience from the military in such gruelling activity. Verumalleus, however had been worn down by her heavy armour, and as scholars Rubin and Oliver were terrible shape now they had the luxury of stopping.
With sunlight quickly fading, Telfor knew they didn’t have the time to rest. Waving Pan over he ordered him to watch over the others and ensure they keep down water. Then with Vahkragg they set about creating preparing a makeshift shelter and a fire.
They have enough food for two weeks at a stretch, and they could collect enough water to sustain themselves easily enough. The most immediate issue was surviving the forest until they found their way to civilisation. There was a reason travellers kept to the roads, and now they had left them Telfor almost preferred the thought of the undead host.
That was the next most pressing concern. How could such a massive force of undead make it so far south, there had been no news to indicate the possibility when they had left for this mission. Something was definitely strange about this whole situation, but the enormity of the bizarreness defied rationalisation.
“Veru,” the crusader had recovered enough to stand and remove her armour, her wiry figure drenched through with sweat. Recognising Telfor with a weary nod he continues, “I need you to sense for abominations again, we need to know if we can stop here”
Guilt bites him at this request, knowing she is already at her limit and that if they needed to run that she and the scholars may not even be able to. Without a word of complaint she closes her eyes, the faint glow returning. Her breathing taking a more laboured quality. Pan looking up from tending Oliver furrows his brow and storms over to the pair. Vahkragg seemingly materialising by Telfor in the low light.
“What the hell, boss,” the scout accuses thinly, “She’ll kill herself if you keep pushing her like this.”
“I can do this, Pan,” Verumalleus croaks before Telfor can respond, “There are none in the area, the group that were chasing us must have turned back.”
The golden light fading, the crusader stumbles half fainting, caught by Pan who glares in vindication at Telfor. She accepts his help back to where the others are resting, leaving Telfor and Vahkragg at the edge of the fires light.
“We needed to know,” Telfor states simply, he’s not sure who he said it to. The giant rests a heavy hand on the veteran’s shoulder wordlessly. Returning to the group, Telfor assigns the watch orders for the night. Knowing that they hadn’t found a solution for the problem of finding their way or surviving the forest, his sleep is fitful and restless endlessly replaying the days events over.